Mental retardation and associated neurological dysfunctions in Down syndrome: a consequence of dysregulation in critical chromosome 21 genes and associated molecular pathways

Eur J Paediatr Neurol. 2008 May;12(3):168-82. doi: 10.1016/j.ejpn.2007.08.010. Epub 2007 Oct 22.


Down syndrome (DS), affecting 1/700 live births, is the major genetic cause of mental retardation (MR), a cognitive disorder with hard impact on public health. DS brain is characterized by a reduced cerebellar volume and number of granular cells, defective cortical lamination and reduced cortical neurons, malformed dendritic trees and spines, and abnormal synapses. These neurological alterations, also found in trisomic mouse models, result from gene-dosage effects of Human Chromosome 21 (HC21) on the expression of critical developmental genes. HC21 sequencing, mouse ortholog gene identification and DS mouse model generation lead to determine HC21 gene functions and the effects of protein-dosage alterations in neurodevelopmental and metabolic pathways in DS individuals. Trisomic brain transcriptome of DS patients and trisomic mouse models identified some molecular changes determined by gene-overdosage and associated dysregulation of some disomic gene expression in DS brains. These transcriptional variations cause developmental alterations in neural patterning and signal transduction pathways that may lead to defective neuronal circuits responsible for the pathogenesis of MR in DS. Recently, the first altered molecular pathway responsible of some DS phenotypes, including neurological and cognitive disorders has been identified. In this pathway, two critical HC21 genes (DYRK1A and DSCR1) act synergistically to control the phosphorylation levels of NFATc and NFATc-regulated gene expression. Interestingly, the NFATc mice show neurological dysfunctions similar to those seen in DS patients and trisomic mouse models. Treatment of DS mouse model Ts65Dn with GABA(A) antagonists allowed post-drug rescue of cognitive defects, indicating a hopeful direction in clinical therapies for MR in children with DS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 21*
  • Down Syndrome / complications
  • Down Syndrome / genetics*
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / etiology
  • Intellectual Disability / genetics*
  • Mice
  • Phenotype
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*